It seems 280 characters are enough to get a person in legal trouble. Yes, you can tweet, your way into a courtroom no matter who you are, a Member of Parliament or an average person.
No wonder, outspoken Member of Parliament, Temba Mliswa is now subject to a lawsuit by a fellow legislator, Mr. Killer Zivhu, because of the tweets he posted. It’s not only an unusual lawsuit but also, it’s a high priced lawsuit for Mr. Mliswa as he stands to pay $1 million should he be found guilty.
What was the tweet about?
In his court papers, Mr. Zivhu is saying that Mr. Mliswa tweeted that he (Mr. Zihvu) had corruptly acquired land in Norton, an allegation that is untrue according to him. Since it is untrue, Mr. Zivhu has taken it to the courts saying Mr. Mliswa’s tweets are defamatory. What’s interesting is that Mr. Zivhu seem to be trying to quantify the extent of the defamation by referring to the number of followers of Mr. Mliswa’s Twitter account and the number retweets the said defamatory tweets have had.
The defendant’s Twitter account is widely viewed as he has a large number of followers and these particular tweets have been retweeted by other Twitter users, thereby further broadening the viewership of these defamatory tweets and allegations, Printouts of the mentioned tweets and published articles are hereby attached as annexures. Moreover, several articles have been published on several news websites including Zimeye, The Sunday Mail and TheZimbabwe.co, who all quoted the defendant as the source…….The damage caused to the plaintiff is continuing because the articles are still available online and the tweets continue to circulate on social media platforms, thereby perpetuating the harm that has been perpetrated on the plaintiff’s reputation
While our constitution protects freedom of speech, it doesn’t give you a license to say whatever you want. What’s definitely not protected is defamation, which consists of smear campaigns (written, broadcast, or otherwise published words that do damage to a person or their reputation) and slander (the same thing, but spoken aloud).
Laws world over have historically not kept up with technology, so it will be interesting to see what the verdict will be saying on the issue of social media. The issue could set a precedence. At the moment, the best thing you can do when tweeting is to use common sense. Seems simple, but with so many people tweeting first and thinking later, that might be easier said than done.